Written by Didi Fraser.
Saint Columba “Colum-cille” (521-597)
Feast Day 9th June
Otherwise known as the ‘Dove of the Church’ he was born at Garten, Donegal, a member of the Clann O’Donnell and of royal descent. He was educated at the monastic school of Moville under St. Finnian and may have founded the monasteries at Durrow and Derry.
In 560 a dispute arose over a copy Columba made of St. Finnian’s book of psalms. The result was Columba’s instigation of a rebellion by Clan Neill against King Diarmait of Ireland. This culminated in the battle of Cooldrevny in 561 in which 3,000 men were killed.
As a result, St. Columba’s confessor gave him the penance of leaving Ireland and converting to Christianity as many as had been killed in the battle. In 563 Columba, aged 42, set sail with 12 followers arriving first at Southend at the tip of Kintyre and then travelling north to Iona. The island was granted to Columba for the establishment of a monastery by King Conall.
He started evangelising the Scots of Dalriada and then the more difficult Picts of Caledonia. He called on King Brude at Inverness with Saint Com- gall and St. Kenneth. King Brude refused to open the gates to the missionaries. However at the sign of the cross made by Saint Columba the barred gates of the fortress simply opened. The King was overawed, converting on the spot with the rest of the Picts following not long after. He also was said to have saved a man from the Loch Ness monster by ordering it to retreat.
St. Columba died on Iona ón the 9th June 597. It became a place of pil- grimage and has remained so ever since even though his remains were removed in 849 and divided between the Scots and the Irish, some go- ing to Dunkeld and the other half going to Downpatrick.
This is a very simple summary of the Saint’s life but what can we learn from this man who had such a great love of Christ and along with many other Saints from Ireland brought Christianity and the Gaelic language and culture to Scotland, which indeed, helped to form the identity of our nation.
At a Gaelic Mass in Oban last year Fr. William Fraser, in his sermon, made the point, that there was such a great attraction to the Gaelic language and culture in this day and age because people are thirsting for what these early saints had. Their lives were simple , their penance real and they had a great respect for the natural world. Indeed the Gaelic language, in its mode of speech, confirms the existance of God and a need for reparation. Diciadain is Wednesday and means ‘the day of the little fast’. Dihaoine is Friday and means ‘the fast day’. ’S e do bheatha is said as the Italians would say ‘Prego’ in response to saying thankyou and means ‘It is [ belonging to] Him [God/Christ] your life’ .
When Our Lady came to Lourdes and Fatima she was asking of us a return to penance and reparation. This is very much the same spirit of St. Columba and his companions. In our times of many snacks, a cheapness of life, hot water and speedy transport do we not thirst for this same spirit?
By the grace of God Colum rose to exalted companionship
Awaiting bright signs , he kept watch while he lived....
He was learning’s pillar in every stronghold....
A sound, austere sage of Christ: no fog of drink, nor fog of delights- he avoided the fill of his mouth.
He was holy, he was chaste, he was charitable, a famous stone in victory. He was a full light.
He was an ample fort for the stranger....
He was a shelter to the naked, he was a teat to the poor....
His body’s desire , he destroyed it...
He destroyed the darkness of envy, he destroyed the darkness of jealousy....
He fought a long and noble battle against the flesh.
He was constant to the memory of the cross.
What he conceived keeping vigil, by action he ascertained.
Extracts from The Amra Choluimh Chille
Saint Columba – Pray for us.
Mrs Didi Fraser lives and works in Fort Augustus and is currently studying with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.
A view of St Columba's Abbey on Iona.